Gummy cannabis scam illustrates need for media literacy
Would you like to buy me some cannabis gummies? Apparently hundreds of people would. The only problem is that I am not selling them and looking for business opportunities. But recent memes, stories, and other misinformation online have not only made me sell and endorse CBD candy, but also get involved in a lawsuit with businessman Kevin O’Leary over them!
People see the fake information, click on a realistic product page, submit their personal and financial information, and order the products. It seems they most often find the locations on Facebook.
I am saddened that someone is spending money in the hope of buying products that they think I have made or recommended. The scam always deceives the innocent. They communicate daily with the David Suzuki Foundation.
It got me thinking about how and where people receive and process information. I’ve been a science communicator for over half a century, so I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how to communicate with people. How do we ensure that as many people as possible have access to accurate and credible information so that we can make informed decisions on important issues?
I was fortunate to have worked for many years at the CBC. As a public broadcaster it has been producing quality content and meeting journalistic standards since before WWII and has helped me gain credibility as a communicator.
Today I compare this type of relationship – one based on accurate and fair communication of relatively diverse types of evidence and views – to what I see online, on social media, and it’s shocking. . Fake news and scams abound, along with the worst political polarization in recent memory.
Fraud and disinformation have been around as long as we have been, and the perpetrators have always used the best available technology to reach people. But in less than 30 years the internet has become our main source of information, and the ubiquity of social media has spawned efficient and inexpensive ways of disseminating information, from bad to good and everything in between.
Almost 60% of the world’s population, or 4.66 billion people, are active Internet users, most of them accessing it through mobile devices. It permeates and informs all aspects of our lives.
As Marshall McLuhan said in the 1960s, our technologies have become extensions of ourselves.
As these systems evolve and become more powerful, complex and efficient, our collective ability to understand and use them must also evolve.
As we get more and more information online, from recipes to weather forecasts, from product information to politics, how can we make sure they are reliable, that we can trust them enough to take good decisions? If we are wrong, what is at stake? Many people seek out or receive information that confirms their beliefs rather than information that might help them better understand a problem. And, as recent opposition to vaccines reveals, much of it promotes “personal freedom” while ignoring the responsibility that comes with it.
In today’s digital society, media literacy levels must match the sophistication of mass communication methods and major technologies. But that’s not the case, and we’re seeing the consequences, from the growing polarization to revelations about how platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp foment division and conflict in the name of profit.
Environmentalists often encounter the problem of misinformation. In 2021, a shrinking minority still rejects the validity of climate science, despite an incredible amount of evidence proving that the crisis is imminent and a massive international scientific consensus regarding the urgent and necessary way forward.
How can we come together, have informed conversations, and enjoy the benefits of evidence-based decision making? It is clearer than ever that a democracy works best when people have access to accurate and credible information.
We need to consider our information systems – news media, social media, etc. – as the foundations of democracy that they are, and we must insist on keeping them, and the people who use them, in good health.
We should invest more public resources to ensure that our media industry is healthy, that social media is properly regulated, and that most people know enough about media to consume information online in a safe and responsible manner. And we need to take responsibility and improve ourselves in synthesizing information, considering diverse perspectives and coming together to find solutions to the world’s biggest problems.
It all starts with productive and respectful conversations based on good information. (And maybe CBD, but not from me!)
David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation. Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Director of Communications Brendan Glauser.